"Murky" would be a better title for this hip-hop, bad-cop drama. While the performances are as good as you'd expect from talents like the two juniors—Cuba Gooding ("Jerry Maguire") and Clifton Collins ("Capote")—"Dirty" doesn't offer us anything new. And a murky script with heavy-handed direction and cinematography add to the problems. That's too bad, because when you watch the bonus features and listen to the commentary, you realize that the potential was there for the film to be less ambitious and, ironically, more successful.
Co-writer and director Chris Fisher says that "Dirty" attempts a lot: bad cop drama, "Crash" moments, Shakespearian urban tragedy, horror . . . . Too bad he didn't scale back and do a lot with a little, instead of doing a little with a lot. The line between the bad guys and the good guys who are in charge of stopping them has always been a thin one, but Fisher pushes it even further. In "Dirty," one gets the feeling that just about ALL cops are like this. When partners (and ex-gang bangers) Salim Day (Gooding, Jr.) and Armando Sancho (Collins, Jr.) walk into the police "war room," you'd swear they had just stumbled onto a gang hangout. Every other word is "bitch," "nigger," or "mother fucker," and that language persists, practically non-stop, throughout the film, along with such useful aphorisms as "don't stick your dick in a gift horse's mouth." Okay. I'll remember that.
You know this is a film that's trying to hard to be something right off the bat. Not only does the hip-hop soundtrack kick in like a continuous drip IV—featuring Bluebird, Radio Zumbido, West Coast Mafia Gang, Classified, The Dwarves, C-Bo, The Beat Conductor, OH NO, Phonosapiens, Loyalty & Honor, Wyclef Jean and DJ Quik—but Fisher tries to be just as jazzy with the camerawork. Trouble is, it's jumpy camerawork, with more shifts per minute than any film I've seen in recent memory. And it's all here: quick cuts, quick pans, dizzying 360s, quick zoom-ins and zoom-outs, slo-mo, filters. But the effect is less artsy or conducive to the mood of the film than it is herky-jerky as an amateur with a camcorder. It's just flat-out too much.
Then there's the matter of the script. "What's the difference between us and them?" the captain (Keith David) asks. "It's a war out there. You go out there and bang heads. One fella a day is all you need to do." There's a new kind of police quota for you. But as I said, Fisher pushes this thin-line business to where you see zero respect for police officers and zero respect from police officers. They walk into a bar and assume the position while they're patted down. And they walk into a new "dirty" assignment given them by a corrupt lieutenant who operates out of the bar (Cole Hauser), which is to "hit" a new bunch of drug dealing gang-bangers in town who—get this—are Canadian Hell's Angels. They look and talk more like Canadian hockey players, though. And then there's this dressed-all-in-white Jamaican (Wyclef Jean) whom the producers felt they had to subtitle his lines, though most of them are perfectly clear. Try juggling the lieutenant's guys, the Hell's Angels, and the Jamaican and his guys in your head, and you come out of it with just as murky of a picture as when you go into it.
Then there are "Crash" moments—including a scene where one of the cops sticks his finger up an innocent Latina in a self-serving abuse of power, and threatens to do the same to an affluent white couple. We've seen this sort of thing before, and so the "shock" value is non-existent. Same with the horror element, where Sancho keeps seeing gruesome faces that haunt him because he killed an innocent old man whom he thought was drawing a gun on his partner. These faces and appropriate horror music turn up time and again, but feel absolutely hokey, again, in part, because it's old hat.
Now, those are the negatives, and I wanted to start with them because I think they far outweigh the positives. Gooding, Jr. and Collins, Jr. make the most of a script that thinks it's deeper than it really is, and both men are interesting every minute the camera is on them. David is also born to play a "dirty" police captain, turning in a performance that's earnest and honest. But the surprises here are two youngsters: Khled Thomas as the cops' skate-punk stoolie, Splooge, and Aimee Garcia as his girlfriend, Rita. Both of them have the kind of charisma when they're on camera that will make them stars down the road, and they do what all successful performers do: they leave you wanting more.
So, unfortunately, does the entire film.
Video: "Dirty" is mastered in High Definition and presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, and the picture quality is decent—though it's hard to tell at times because of the deliberate use of filters and graininess.
Audio: Very nice—a full and rich English or Thai Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack with French 2.0 option and subtitles in English, French, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai. It makes the hip-hop and rap songs bounce off the walls.
Extras: The extras are a mixed bag. The audio commentary with director Fisher and his directory of photography, Eliot Rockett, isn't bad, but there are plenty of silences and the two get off track quite a bit. That can be either refreshing or annoying, depending upon your perspective and personality. Example? Suddenly Rockett's talking about seeing "Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit" on an airplane and singing its praises. The most interesting moment comes when Fisher says he based the character of the captain on Donald Rumsfeld: "The more passion, the more of a lie it is. He's a complete fuck-up!"
There's a "Chump" music video by OH NO that's what you'd expect, a handful of deleted scenes that are also pretty standard. Rounding out the extras is a short feature on skateboarding and breakdancing, and "Gettin' Dirty: An Inside Look at the 'Dirty' Premiere," which splices in footage of the opening along with interview clips from some of the stars and principles that were conducted that night. Given the difficult circumstances of trying to get something of substance from people on a red carpet walk in a party mood, the filmmakers did a pretty good job of getting and editing interesting remarks. And they were smart enough to lead with the best one—Garcia's story about improvising a scene in which she is so reviled by Gooding's character that she spits in his face, unscripted. And Gooding, Jr. comes on with one of his own, talking about how before he was an actor he was a breakdancer on the streets.
Bottom Line: Despite some fine performances and a powerful moment where Russian roulette is played, "Dirty" is too much like films we've seen already, and the director goes overboard with his attempts to set it apart.